Autodesk Maya LT is a stripped-down £700 3D suite

The new 3D tool has a limited set of features and is aimed at indie and mobile game designers.

Update 4/9/13: Autodesk has given us a statement on the price discrepency for Maya LT between the US and the UK.

Autodesk has released a cut-down version of its Maya 2014 3D modelling, rendering and animation suite that’s targeted at 3D artists working at indie and mobile game developers. Maya LT is essentially the same application as its big brother – but with an interface simplified by having a bunch of features removed, and with limited export functions. There are a few game-focussed features not found in Maya 2014 though, which have largely been taken from other Autodesk tools and plugins.

Maya LT is available for both Mac and Windows, and costs less than a quarter of the full suite: £700 plus VAT* vs £3,200. Maya LT costs $795 in the US – closer to £500, which the original version of this story listed as the price. Autodesk gives its reasons for this as "specific market conditions in each geography based on factors, including the local economy and competitive practices for example, are taken into consideration to arrive at a final local SRP."

Maya LT is also available via a rental system for between $35-50 per month, depending on the overall duration chosen. UK pricing for this hasn't been made available to us yet.

In a phone interview, Autodesk’s video games industry marketing man Wesley Adams told me that he foresees this being the most popular way to be Maya LT with small developers, as he says they can easily switch licences on and off on a month-by-month basis depending on where they are in the development of projects – and how many artists they have working at a time.

Maya LT's Viewports render models as they will appear in-game.

What’s been taken out of Maya to create Maya LT comes down to two factors: what do game developers not need, and what does Autodesk need to take out to stop its bread-and-butter large studio and VFX customers buying some Maya LT licenses instead of full ones for some of their artists. If Autodesk capped only Maya’s rendering output to create Maya LT, for example, some studios would likely buy the LT version for all their modellers and animators.

So out goes most rendering options including Mental Ray and VRay, and model export is capped at 25,000 polygons. Projects are saved as .mlt files, which are encrypted so that they can’t be opened in the full version of Maya – though you can bring in Maya files (.ma and .mb), along with OBJ, FBX and most common vector and bitmap formats.

Maya LT includes many of the tools found within Maya 2014 including (above, top to bottom) animation, extrusion, the Graph Editor and retopology tools for simplifying models.

Export is via Autodesk’s FBX interchange format for use in Unity 3D and Unreal game development environment – which allow the creation anything from Flash-based web games to full-spec iPhone, iPad and Android games. You can also export sprite sheets for games that use 2D graphics. If you need to show rendered models outside of Maya LT – for example to the client for an advergame – Wesley says you can either render stills or animation using Maya’s Playblast system, or export the FBX and let the client/your boss use Autodesk’s FBX Review app for Windows 7/8 to view it interactively.

As you’d expect, Maya LT loses most of Maya 2014’s VFX tools – plus the dynamics and simulations. There’s also no SDK nor support for plug-ins or scripting. Wesley accepts that Autodesk may get some criticism for this, but the company doesn’t want sneaky plug-in devs creating ways to get round Maya LT’s built-in limitations. However, Autodesk may re-evaluate this in the future.

What Maya LT includes a simplified human skeleton and inverse kinematics system (above) based on the HumanIK tech used by tools such as MotionBuilder. Users also get ShaderFX (below), a drag-and-drop-based way to create textures based on the ShaderFX 3ds max plug-in created by Kees Rijnen (who now works for Autodesk).

Wesley says that “for the time being” there’s no way to upgrade from Maya LT to Maya 2014, nor from rental to a perpetual licence.

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